Thursday, June 20, 2013

Fifty West Brewing Company Heading to Innovation

The Canopied Entrance
      Fifty West Brewing Company had a couple of strikes against it from the start.  First of all, it's in the structure that originally housed one of CIncinnati's finest bygone restaurants, The Heritage.  It was a sad day at our house when it closed.  Not that we could afford to dine there often, but it did provide a lot of flavor memories and one-of-a-kind experiences.  Secondly, we're all about the food so while we
knew it most likely wouldn't be in the same category as its predecessor, it might possibly be focused entirely on the brews.  We asked Jan and Mike to go with us as they both had dined at The Heritage and Mike is one of the best judges of different beers that we know.

Dexter Outside the Front Porch Kitchen
      From the outside, there's not a a lot of change.  Fortunately, the grapevine outdoor garden area was still a dining spot.  The most obvious revamp was the kitchen stretching across what used to be the enclosed front porch.  It's especially noticeable after dark when the many windows showed off the culinary staff at work.  It was a new take on the open kitchen.  Inside, there's little to conjure up the past.  There's a tasting
The Tasting Room
room that looks somewhat like the old library room, giving a nod to The Heritage's use of wild game meats with some heads mounted on the wall.  The Rathskeller was pretty much intact and the only dining room in the entire restaurant. The staircase had disappeared and the remaining dining rooms have been turned into a bar, brewing station, and restrooms.  All in all, there's been a lot of money invested in making this old city stalwart a new gem that should be positioned to be around for a long time.  

The Blackboard List of Brews
    As its name indicates, the spotlight is on the beers.  Mike and I were the only takers and since I'm not very well-versed on the subject, I decided to ask him to write up his thoughts.  "50 West offers 12 ales spanning a wide range of styles, sort of targeted for the seasonal warm weather but also pairing well with the tapas dishes on the menu.  There were, of course, the usual welcomed stout and American-style pale ales of varying hop flavor, bitterness, and strength; but were well complemented with German-style Weiss biers (both Bavarian and tart Berliner), some Belgium efforts (golden strong ale, saison, and biere de garde), an American-style rye and a quirky cask-conditioned American ale.

The Speed Bump Light Ale
On this visit, we sampled the Speed Bump Light ale, the Interstate Ryeway IPA, and the Thirty-37 pale ale.  The Speed-Bump light-ale (5.25% ABV, 25 IBU)  is a German-style Kolsch—light in body, flavored with a slight biscuit malt but with a smooth dry finish but no lingering bitterness.  It's a very well suited hot weather beer. The Interstate Ryeway IPA (6.6% ABV, 65 IBU) was a very different amalgam of hops and rye that blended surprisingly well.  The rye malt flavor was present but not overwhelming and soon gave way to an assertive but controlled hop flavor and bitterness.  It provided an interesting alternative for the hop head who likes variety but still needs the IBUs.  The brewing notes revealed sorachi ace and centennial hops that were combined for a pleasant floral-citrus character.  The most unusual beer we sampled was the Thirty-37 American pale ale which was both offered on tap and as cask conditioned ale.  It was a low gravity (4.5% ABV) with a dry bitter balance (38 IBU) but with a surprising amount of flavor.  The brewing notes showed that the beer was conditioned on juniper and lemon peel, but done in such a way to provide a subtle augmentation of the hop flavor.  The cask version was presented at the appropriate cellar temperature, but for the hot weather some may prefer to have this served at a cooler temperature and should opt for the standard CO2 version."   Thanks, Mike. Well stated, as only a scientist can do! 

Sliders and Flatbread

Roasted Poblano
    The menu appeared ambitious and we feared that could be their downfall.  In this case almost everything was thumbs up that we tried.  Highlights for us were the Tomato and Arugula Flatbread and the Smoked Salmon Guacamole.  The flatbread was extra thin with crisp edging and shared a lot of the same qualities that we liked in the house made tortilla chips.  They alone are worth a future visit.  The guacamole
Smoked Salmon Guacamole
was creamy and sustained the smoky flavor throughout.  The Roasted Poblano was fresh with a stuffing of chicken chorizo and cheese.  The citrus drizzle on top gave it a current touch.  The Josey Buffalo Sliders were enough for the four of us to sample.  Topped with a red cabbage slaw, it left us wanting another round.  The Wheatberry Salad was an add-on and the downer of the evening.  Jan was hoping for a crunchy texture that she recalled from the Prime 'n' Wine salad bar (another bygone restaurant).  In this case they were just too tough and chewy. 

       Jan has a sensitive nose and was pleased to find the "mold and mildew crossed with a port-o-let" smell had been corrected inside.  She brought to our attention the chlorine residue that was prevalent inside the drinking glasses brought to our table.  That's not a good thing when one would have to assume that the same dishwasher is servicing the beer glasses.  Something so simple could definitely affect the taste of the brews.  Something we've noticed in other restaurants (Zula as an example) is the use of a glass residue washer before serving their beers.  It's a thoughtful touch.

Outdoor Bier Garten
      Our server was nice when prompted, but required way too much of that.  Knowledge of the brew list is a must.  Samples should be offered to anyone unsure of which beer they want to order as her or his beverage of the evening.  She did when I asked, but I feel it should be a standard for a brewhouse to do so.  It's a gesture of welcome and a way of building loyalty.  When asked about dessert, she said there was one but it might be all gone.  Again, nothing beyond that until we asked her to check.  It WAS all gone.  These are issues with server training, which restaurants just don't understand could be their downfall when all other things appear to be working.

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